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Cave Canem
Dogs have their own parking spaces in Rome

ChrismaChunnuKwanzaBoxingNewYear is wrapping up. For many of us, this means we are blissfully reunited with our dogs after visits to family, friends or, simply, dog-unfriendly holidays. If you’re like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time during a vacation seeking out other people’s dogs. Happily, Rome, where I spent Christmas, provides a wealth of canine delights. Sleek muzzles peer out of purses and well-heeled apartment-dwellers stroll in the passeggiata. Of course, these smallish, pampered pooches are a far cry from ancient Roman hunting and guard dogs. I was particularly delighted to see dogs in sweaters and blingy collars join the crowd in the piazza outside St. Peter’s Basillica for the Pope's Christmas benediction. Like any city anywhere, dogs also kept company with the homeless.

The most delightful surprise were the dogs at Pompeii, the ruins of an ancient Roman city, preserved for millennia under the pumice and ash of Vesuvius. Not only are teeth-baring dogs warning Cave Canem (Beware of dog in Latin) preserved in mosaics but there are actual dogs—38 of them, according to our guide Big Nicky. These aren’t skinny, flea-riddled strays, barely getting by on the kindness of tourists, but clean, healthy, sociable pups (at least the three I met). That’s because the staffers at Pompeii provide food and water for these furry residents. Each dog is also spayed or neutered--a custom less in evidence among the male dog population in Rome.

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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